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Bolters, sliders, and everything in between: a conversation about the 2019 AFL draft

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1st December, 2019
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The AFL draft has come and gone for another year, and with all the picks now in the books, Josh Elliott and I sat down to talk about the big topics of the draft: the clubs that featured most prominently, the sliders and bolter, and the draft itself.

Gold Coast’s rebuild

Josh: Pick 1 is always more of a talking point in the lead-up to the draft than it is on the night, and once we knew the Suns would have two top picks there ceased to be any intrigue around it.

But Gold Coast have still got a significant task ahead of them to become competitive and “normalise” themselves, as Stewie Dew put it.

They ultimately made two other early selections this year in Sam Flanders and Jeremy Sharp – what do you reckon they’ll bring to the club, and how quickly can they move up the ladder?

Maddy: I like what Gold Coast did this year. Sam Flanders will bring that explosiveness and power that some of their other players lack, and he can also hit the scoreboard.

They obviously rated Jeremy Sharp highly given they traded up to get him, and they don’t have many pure wingmen, so he nicely complements their existing squad.

Having eight top 25 players in the last two years (including Jez McLennan last year) is a great foundation to build from.

And they’ve managed to bring in some good quality mature players in Brandon Ellis and Hugh Greenwood, rather than being forced to accept other club’s offcuts, which is definitely positive.

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Having their three top picks from last year re-sign already is definitely a boost. So they’re in a good place to do better next year – they’re quickly compiling one of the most talented lists in the comp – but still a few years off really rising up the ladder, as that young talent needs to gel and gain more experience.

J: I agree Flanders and Sharp look like really good pickups, the kind any club would love to have on their books.

Flanders is one of the best athletes in the draft but also a proven footballer, I’m surprised he didn’t have more fans in the top ten and I reckon he will make a big impact early.

Sharp isn’t someone I’d expect to play a lot in his first year, but it’s not off the cards.

I feel like they’re a good chance to improve off the bottom of the ladder next year, but at the same time, it’s hard to put a finger on which clubs are likely to figure below them.

Probably the biggest talking point of their draft in the end though has been their trade on night two where they gave up pick 11 next year and a late 2019 pick to get that pick 27 where they drafted Sharp.

What did you make of that one?

M: The trade was interesting. It’s obviously hard to assess without knowing exactly how next year’s draft will fall, but on face value I don’t mind it.

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I can understand some people being annoyed that they’ve traded pick 11, given the AFL gave it to them, but the AFL also gave them the green light to trade it, and would probably be happier that they’re getting more talent in more quickly.

The club said they rated Sharp as a top-15 talent, and when a player you rate that highly is still available at 27, then it makes sense to pounce.

Another argument in their favour is that next year’s draft is highly compromised, and they’ll still have another first-round selection, so it makes sense to use that one this year.

J: I reckon if you look at it in isolation there’s a reasonable case to be made for it, as you’ve illustrated, but I feel that when you look at it alongside the pick swap trades they’ve done with West Coast and Brisbane over the past few years, there’s a real pattern of throwing away draft capital.

One of the frustrating things for me about them being given the priority assistance package they were is looking back at those previous trades and feeling like they’ve had the assets they need and just misused them, and this deal makes me feel like they haven’t really learnt from that.

I do really rate Sharp though, and I reckon he will be a good player for them – but I feel like holding onto that pick and seeing what value they could get out of it next year would have been the better choice.

Matt Rowell

(AAP Image/Michael Dodge)

Melbourne’s gambles

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J: We knew picks 1 and 2 from a ways out so Melbourne’s pick 3 became the most intriguing selection of the draft, and they wound up going in a direction that surprised many of us, picking a ruckman in Luke Jackson.

As if that wasn’t left-field enough, they then went for Kysaiah Pickett at their next selection, someone who only a few weeks before the draft was considered more likely a late second or third-round prospect, but rose up the order rapidly.

The Dees have bet their 2020 first-round pick on being able to move quickly up the order – they’re already entering the season under some pressure and it’s only going to be heightened by the sense that, if they do poorly, they’ve given up a really good pick.

Do you think they’ll wind up regretting that move?

M: Obviously this is hard to assess now given we don’t know their ladder position – if they finish bottom then yep, probably!

But they’ll be backing themselves in to rise up the ladder next year, and clubs have to do that and be bold if they’re going to get anywhere.

Melbourne obviously wanted to get Jackson and Pickett this year so that they can start developing.

Given they got these two in, it won’t matter as much to them if next year they are closer to the bottom of the ladder, as they’ll have had an extra 12 months to develop.

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Whether or not Jackson and Pickett are good selections is obviously something we can’t really say for certain for at least a few years.

They’ve picked on needs, rather than taking best available, which is interesting in and of itself.

How you feel about their picks probably depends on your views on drafting or trading for ruckmen.

I don’t necessarily think they’re worth pick 3, but I do think that if you view them as being close to best available talent, as Jackson was rated by many clubs, then you should take them and let them develop.

Pickett, too, was a player that some clubs had rated much lower, but again, Melbourne needed a small forward, and they’ve obviously done a lot of work on him and rate what he can bring to their side.

They’ll both need time to develop, so won’t be big players next year, although their pick 37, Trent Rivers, might be able to play some senior footy in 2020.

J: I feel pretty firm on disagreeing with the Jackson selection – it’s not a commentary on him as a player, as I reckon he can be genuinely elite, but it just doesn’t make sense to me for Melbourne.

They added Braydon Preuss on a reasonable-sized deal last year to solve this issue they believed they had in their ruck and now have spent a very high pick trying to patch up the same problem – and I’m not convinced it should have been top ten for priority on their to-do list.

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I’ve got no scepticism over just how high Jackson’s ceiling is, but I feel like they’ve missed the chance to draft a player like Hayden Young who has the elite kick they are crying out for.

The Kosi Pickett selection I don’t mind so much – while it did come earlier than we would’ve projected during the year, they had to take him there if they wanted him, and if he can do what they think he can, then he’ll fill a massive hole on their list.

That trade pre-draft with Freo to get an extra pick in the second round worked out very sweetly as I reckon Trent Rivers is a beautiful pick-up for them.

I do think they’ve added three really good prospects here overall, but I’ll admit that as a North fan, I’m optimistic that they’re in for another cursed year, and that will deliver us a high pick in 2020.

Melbourne draft

(AAP Image/Scott Barbour)

Carlton’s wheeling and dealing

J: Just as it was last year, the big talking point of Day 1 of the draft was Carlton, making some nifty live trading moves to shake up the draft order.

When the players they wanted – Hayden Young and Dylan Stephens – didn’t fall to them at pick 9, they swapped that for picks 15 and 22, picking Brodie Kemp at 15.

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They then struck a deal with Port Adelaide to move pick 22 up to 20 for a low price, with Port taking the deal because 22 was the first pick of Day 2, and they’d know from last year they could trade that for a good profit, which they eventually did.

That move was inspired by the desire to grab Sam Philp, who the Blues believed Richmond would have selected at pick 21 if available.

As it stands, if you look at that Liam Stocker deal, they’ve essentially traded pick 4 this year (which became Lachie Ash) for three picks in the top 20 – Liam Stocker, Kemp, and Philp.

The Crows have done pretty well out of the trade also – managing to get an extra first-rounder from the Giants by sending that pick to them – but after two years of live trading, it’s hard not to feel like Carlton are ahead of the league in making the most out of it.

M: I don’t know that they’re necessarily ‘ahead’ of other clubs, but I do feel they’ve done very well.

Last year’s swap they did with Adelaide probably set the example and tone for other clubs, and it seems like clubs have now embraced the ability to live trade, which is a good thing.

The jury’s still out on Stocker, but any time you can turn one high pick into three first-rounders is a great result. Getting three players in rather than one will help accelerate their rebuild.

Kemp probably won’t play much this year as he recovers from an ACL injury, and Philp is still lightly framed and needs time to develop, but might get a few games later in the year.

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Brodie Kemp

(AAP Image/Michael Dodge)

Freo’s triple treat

J: Freo didn’t retain the players they would have liked to during the trade period but a good deal for Brad Hill plus access to a highly-rated prospect in Liam Henry set them up to finish with three picks in the top ten.

Their picks from the open pool were Hayden Young, an intercept defender many consider the best kick in the draft, and Caleb Serong, a damaging inside midfielder/small forward.

They’re going into 2020 under a new coach in Justin Longmuir and with a mandate to improve, but they also now have the third-youngest list in the AFL. Where do you see them at?

M: Any time you take in three top-ten picks – and they’re only the second club to do that in the last five years – it’s hard to stuff up.

All three players are extremely good talents, and the Dockers would be rapt to have them. Young and Serong seem like players who can come in and play a good chunk of footy next year, but Henry will likely take a while given he’s recovering from injury.

Coupling these three with their picks from a few years ago in Adam Cerra and Andy Brayshaw gives them a really good foundation to build on.

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I also think that the new attacking style of play that new coach Longmuir wants to bring fits the players on their list.

They’re probably two or so years away from playing finals – they need to give their game plan a chance to take hold and develop some chemistry between players, but they’re well on their way.

J: I feel like there’s a lot of potential to be unlocked in this list and a fresh coaching perspective just might be what does it.

That said, they’ve lost two genuinely elite players in Lachie Neale and Brad Hill over the last two years, and that stat about having the third youngest list in the comp dulls my optimism for them a little.

Having an abundance of players who could run and move the ball was a strength of their list in recent years, if an under-utilised one, and with Hill and Langdon gone I feel like they’ve lost that advantage.

They’ve still got enough of that kind of talent, especially if Stephen Hill can shake off his injury woes and have a big year, but it’s not the weapon it might have been.

I reckon they’re a finals contender in 2020 – but I also feel you could make an argument that they’re in that mix with maybe every other team in the league bar Gold Coast.

Fremantle

(AAP Image/Scott Barbour)

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The bolters

J: There’s something inherently exciting about seeing a player come out of the blue to get drafted early in the piece, and we saw a nice handful of those this year.

Aside from Pickett and Philp who we’ve already mentioned, Will Day to Hawthorn, Cooper Stephens to Geelong, Mitch Georgiades to Port and Thomson Dow to Richmond were probably the picks that piqued my interest the most in the early part of the draft.

M: I don’t think Day was a massive bolter – apparently other clubs were likely to take him in the early teens if he’d got through, so the Hawks’ selection was about right for him.

Stephens’ broken leg probably saw him slide down some clubs’ boards, but on talent he was always a first-round pick so again, so where Geelong took him wasn’t that big of a reach.

Georgiades and Dow were two who did go earlier than expected. Based on Georgiades’ 2018 form, he’s a first-round pick on talent, but his injuries this year meant that without exposed form, he was probably seen as being a second round pick or later.

Again, sometimes we might consider where players are selected to be a reach, but it depends on how interested clubs are in them.

Port believed that clubs in the early part of the second round were keen on Georgiades, and so it was unlikely he’d have got through to their selection in the 20s.

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On that basis, they did well to take him where they did.

Dow was another one several clubs were keen on, so again, Richmond had to take him there if they wanted him because he wouldn’t have been there at their next pick 39.

Also, if they wanted a balanced, explosive midfielder, there weren’t too many others around – so it makes sense to take Dow over someone like Dev Robertson.

J: I’m going to be especially intrigued to see how the Georgiades pick pans out. I like what Port did with their three early selections, adding three talents who can do damage in the forward half of the ground, but all three are a little enigmatic, and Georgiades the most.

They desperately need a developing key forward on their list to partner with Todd Marshall for the long term, but neither this year’s draft nor next’s appear to have any high-end prospects of that kind.

That does make it feel like they’ve reached a bit to get in a type they need, but they’ve proven themselves to be pretty canny drafters when they’ve had picks in recent years, so I’m backing them to make this one a winner.

Day I found a bit surprising because I expected the Hawks to take someone more ready-made, while Dow I’m a little surprised is the type of player Richmond felt they needed.

We know Philp is someone they had in mind at that pick, and probably someone they were confident would be available.

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I’m always intrigued by how clubs make quick decisions when the rug is pulled out from under them like that – looking forward to seeing how he develops over time.

Wouldn’t it be great if he makes a Round 1 debut up against his brother Paddy for the MCG season opener? That would add some spice.

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The sliders

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J: In the other direction are those players who got taken a bit later than we thought they might – there were plenty this year, but a few really stand out.

Deven Robertson’s slide out of the first round was one of the biggest talking points of Day 1, then Jay Rantall and Trent Bianco both fell to Collingwood on Day 2, as did Cam Taheny to Geelong.

Mitch O’Neill was probably the highest-rated player to not get picked up in the national draft – ultimately making it through to West Coast with a pick in the 20s of the rookie draft, despite being one of only three back-to-back All Australians.

M: The last few drafts have seen highly-rated inside midfielders slide – Luke Valente, Jack Bytel, Charlie Constable and Jack Graham are a few from the last three years that come to mind.

They’re probably victims of clubs focusing more on ‘upside’ and potential in players rather than what they can already do.

The knock on inside mids is usually either their kicking or their scope for development, and the latter is what I think hurts them.

On that basis, Dev sliding shouldn’t have been a surprise, particularly in an even draft.

I was surprised Brisbane took him as the last thing they need is more inside midfielders, but he was probably too good to pass up at their selection.

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Rantall was an interesting one – his combine performance probably pushed him up some clubs’ boards, but maybe not enough to make him a first-round selection, as some pundits thought might happen.

Bianco’s size was probably the reason he slid – he’s only 178 centimetres, but he’s one of the best kicks in the draft.

I don’t think Taheny’s position was much of a slide. He was a really polarising player given his inconsistency, and for mine always shaped as a later selection.

On the other hand, I was surprised about O’Neill – again, his height might have been the issue, but he’s a prolific ball-winner and I can’t believe no club took a chance on him in the national draft.

J: Robertson is one I changed my mind a lot about in the lead-up to the draft – ask me two months ago and I would’ve said the early 20s is about right for him. Closer to the draft, I felt like his leadership and consistency would’ve made him a worthy top-ten selection, even though I’m not broadly a fan of taking dedicated inside mids that early.

The fact we saw someone like Sam Philp, who wasn’t picked to play in the under-18 championships, picked over Dev, who was the championship winning captain and best player at the tournament, really illustrates the point you make about clubs picking on potential over performance.

The risk there is a lot of players don’t reach their potential, whereas I feel like Brisbane can have great confidence that Dev should put together at worst a very solid career.

He doesn’t necessarily fill an immediate need for them, but adds depth and leadership to that midfield, and aside from another really good key forward, which was a hard type to find in this year’s draft, I don’t feel like they have any other pressing needs, so I’m okay with it.

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Deven Robertson

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos)

Collingwood I find harder to judge – they got great value to get Rantall and Bianco at the picks they did, but I don’t feel like adding more midfielders to the list addresses any pressing needs.

They could both be good players when they get their chance – Bianco in particular I’d have been very happy to see land at North – but I can’t help but feel they’ve gone through another offseason without really doing much to address their dearth of key position players.

They held the pick where mature key forward Jake Riccardi was ultimately drafted, but traded it away to GWS, who picked him up instead.

Riccardi is by no means a certain superstar, but it baffles me that they would pass up the chance to put him on their list when he’s the type of player they’re crying out for.

They did get Trey Ruscoe later, who in addition to having a great name, is a key defender, so they didn’t totally ignore their needs, but I feel like a lack of reliable talls is still going to be an issue for them in 2020.

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The draft format

M: I’m not a fan of the two-day format. It seems like the AFL is focused on promoting the event, rather than actually caring about what players and fans want.

For players, it must be excruciating to have to wait until the second night to know if you’ll be taken, and for fans, the whole thing just drags out for too long.

Having five minutes between picks wasokay when there was no live trading, but since that’s come in the five minutes is taking an eternity.

The fact, too, that if you put a bid on then the clock stops while the other club decides what to do or the AFL signs off on a pick swap is bizarre.

I’d prefer it to start earlier – say 5:30 or 6pm, and be done all in one night.

I know clubs like having the two days as it gives them time to plan trades and think about what they want to do, but they’d adapt fine if it was all done in one night.

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J: Despite all the initiatives the AFL has taken to make the draft more palatable to TV viewers, the ratings for it were really poor, and the overly convoluted processes they’ve thrown together is a part of that.

For mine, the live trading and bid-matching systems just don’t mix together.

To see the clock stopped for ten minutes so Brisbane could squeeze their way out of a bid-matching bind, like you mentioned, or Carlton make bids on academy players just to buy themselves time to get a trade done – to me that is farcical.

I’ve got more thoughts on this that I’ll expand upon in another column sometime soon, but suffice to say the AFL has a long way to go before they nail what the draft should be.

Spending the last fifteen minutes of the evening watching every club slowly agree to pass on their picks – some of them being asked to pass more than once – was the most shambolic of all, for mine.

Gillon McLachlan

(AAP Image/James Ross)

Final thoughts

J: We’vegotto some big topics already but there’s plenty left that would be worthy of discussion.

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Before we wrap it up, which clubs, aside from those we’ve talked about, do you think did well, or didn’t? Were there any individual selections that particularly caught your eye?

M: Port and Geelong did well. Again, it’s hard not to when you have quite a few early selections, but I like the mix of players.

Port took three forwards who’ll need time to develop, but they’ve got X-factor, which the Power need.

Given the aforementioned focus on ‘upside’ in players, they’ll be happy with the scope of those players for the future.

Geelong got a midfielder and key defender, which they needed, although their third selection of Francis Evans was highly speculative – but that’s Stephen Wells for you!

The Tigers also flew under the radar a bit, but I like their haul. They got players who, again, need some development, but given where their list is at they can afford to do that, and are building with an eye to the future.

Essendon did really well to address their needs of key forward, a ruckman, and a small forward, as well as bringing in another inside midfielder in the rookie draft.

I also think Sydney did a great job both of addressing its needs and bringing in some good talent.

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It’s too early to assess if any clubs did badly. Obviously the Saints and West Coast didn’t have much of a role to play and had late selections, so they may have less success long-term than other clubs, but on face value I think most clubs would be happy with how they did.

In terms of individual players, as mentioned earlier, I was really surprised Brisbane took Dev Robertson.

I guess they liked his leadership potential, but to me they’ve already got too many inside midfielders – Ely Smith was their first pick last year and they just redrafted Corey Lyons as a rookie, who hasn’t been able to get a game.

For mine, they’d have been better off taking a forward or outside midfielder at that selection.

On the other hand, I like North’s selection of Flynn Perez.

He hasn’t played all year so is a bit of a mystery, but he’s quick and has a lot of potential. Their list doesn’t have much flair, and he could bring that, so is worth taking a risk on.

J: Always happy to see North get a bit of a talk-up, especially when I don’t have to be the one doing it!

I’ll admit that the Perez selection was one that dropped my jaw when it happened, given some of the more prominent names that were left on the board, but it has grown on me.

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Staying on North briefly – the Jack Mahony pick is my favourite, of those the Roos made. When you consider how early teams like Melbourne and the Bulldogs went on small forwards, it’s surprising he didn’t get talked up more pre-draft.

Champion Data had him ranked as the 14th best player in the draft pool, and while that isn’t necessarily gospel, he looks like has all the traits you’d want in a small forward. I’d like to see him play Round 1.

If we’re rating them on the clubs I’m most jealous of then I would have to say, for the picks they had, Sydney have done the best out of this draft.

They’ve basically nailed how I believe the draft should be done: pick those players with hard-to-find attributes first, then draft those types who are more plentiful later on.

They picked up two really classy and exciting players in Dylan Stephens and Eli Taylor inside their first three picks, and then the other was spent on a really unique player and my personal favourite in the draft, Will Gould.

Dylan Stephens

(AAP Image/Michael Dodge)

They then picked up some solid inside mids in Chad Warner and Brady Rowles later on. Who knows if they’ll make it, but inside midfielders are plentiful, and if you take enough punts on them later in the draft, you’ll eventually find some good ones.

Geelong is the other club I’m liking a lot out of this – not because I’m necessarily blown away by the players they picked, but that deal with Gold Coast means they already have three picks in next year’s first round.

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While still being one of the top clubs in the league, they’re going to get the chance to take five first-round picks in two years, which will do a lot to cushion the blow when some of their ageing stars finally hang up the boots.

In terms of standout picks, Brock Smith to Brisbane at pick 33 and Hugo Ralphsmith to Richmond at pick 46 are probably the two we haven’t talked about elsewhere that I really rated, and in the rookie draft I really like Essendon picking Mitch Hibberd, and Carlton getting Josh Honey and Fraser Phillips.